Inti-Illimani

Resistencia Zon, Vol. 1

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Never mind that the last three letters in this album's title are "CIA," at the time of its release the group that recorded it had been effectively kicked out of their homeland of Chile for singing politically incorrect material, songs by Victor Jara, for example. Resistencia was Inti-Illimani's 14th album according to some discographies; in terms of group musical sophistication, if this was the Beatles this would be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Taking the concept of the song to unexpected, hopefully undiscovered places was at the heart of the nuevo cancion movement that Inti-Illimani had so thoroughly embraced, the group's origin in the simple folk music of Andean Indians now stored at ready in the repertoire cellar.

"Naciste de los Lenadores," a song set to the words of a poem by the great Pablo Neruda, has a fascinating musical structure, stark contrasts being used aggressively, no doubt performed live but with the unreal precision of a crafty razor splice. The performance might remind the listener of something Lee Hazlewood might have come up with, bringing up the whole subject of how this Chilean group fits into the traditional folk, folk rock, and contemporary pop scene circa 1977. These "new songs" racing through the minds of rebellious South American college students were part of a worldwide inspiration in songwriting, ideas feeding back and forth between cultures as if there was no language barrier at all.

The intricate vocal harmonies and arrangements on Resistencia sometimes bring to mind the best recordings of groups such as the Association. Imagine that but with text of a somewhat more substantial nature, solid helpings of Jara and fellow political songwriter Sergio Ortega, whose "Chile Resistencia" is the dynamic opener of the album. The song passes a simple test in the context of a 1990 CD reissue set that combines this album with the 1973 Viva Chile! According to critical pundit Tiny Altimus, one way to test the power of an album's opening track is to program it into just such a compact disc set in which it is no longer the very first track to be heard. "Chile Resistencia" may thus be the 13th song to be heard on this CD collection, but the listener will immediately stand at attention as soon as it begins, fully aware that a new album has started.

Stringed instruments, percussion, traditional pan pipe flutes, and the very occasional deviation such as a fiddle on "Todas Las Lluvias" remain the group's instrumental options. The arrangements organize these choices in a simple yet breathtaking manner, like a day laborer assembling the ingredients for lunch. The soft pad of a drum stroke on "Juanito Laguna Remonta Un Barrilete" is the sandwich awaiting while working up a sweat. In some ways it seems as if nobody remembered to pack a dessert or final piece of fruit, since the last few songs on the album seem somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer genius of what has come before.

From here the group went on to events such as a 1988 Amnesty International tour with Sting and '90s releases on world music labels such as Green Linnet. Resistencia was a widely distributed message at the time of its original release, rented out to different European labels through arrangements with Warner-EMI, smuggled around South America like pouches of wacky tobacco, even pressed up by the official East German record label Amiga, no doubt because it seemed anti-American. It has lost not an iota, not a nano-spark, of its original power and glory and could conceivably represent some kind of symbolic hurdle each time the group has released something new.

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